Friday 16 June 2017

Have You Tried Yoga? - Theatre Review

What: Have You Tried Yoga?
When: 15 - 17 June 2017
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
Created by: Rachel Edmonds
Developed and performed by: Martin Astifo and Rachel Edmonds
Sound by: Micah Edmonds
Stage Managed by: Jack Wilkinson

Rachel Edmonds, Jack Wilkinson, and Martin Astifo
Every so often a show comes along which is entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and socially significant. Whilst technically still a show in development, Have You Tried Yoga? is one of those shows and it would be a tragedy if you miss it which is a real possibility because the last performance for this iteration is tomorrow's matinee (this performance is also being Auslan interpreted).  Have You Tried Yoga? is part of The Owl and Cat Theatre's current Platform series which is a set of four shows in development.

Created by Rachel Edmonds, Have You Tried Yoga? is an exploration of the lived experience of people with a range of disabilities. It expresses their voice, their attitudes, and the sometimes completely imbecilic comments/responses by the able-normative community. Created using verbatim techniques Edmonds and Astifo meander through the told stories of people with a range of challenges including Chrone's Disease, mobility impairment, hearing impairment, mental ill-health, eating disorders, and a range of other able-alternative conditions. Tying it all together is Edmond's personal experience with Trigeminal Neuralgia and Fybromyalgia and a romance defying the odds.

One of the main points of this show is a demonstration of why things like yoga, positive thinking, and lime juice imported from some exotic location don't fix things and are not cure alls. We meet a school friend who breaks up with Edmonds because all she ever talks about is her ill health. As Edmonds points out she was asked how she was and her reply was in keeping with that. She also makes the excellent point that managing a chronic illness can be someone's entire life so does that make her life (and therefore herself) less important than anyone else's?

We hear an old lady complain about a boy who won't (can't) stand up on public transport, saying how disrespectful youth are today. Another friend tells her to just think positive and that will make all the difference. We meet a VCA acting graduate who has hidden their 'invisible illness' and survived the rigors of ableist (a new term for me) actor training who wonders if anyone else in the room is hiding an 'invisible illness' as well. Edmonds herself tells us of the Ballarat acting audition process which involves 2 hours of dance (not for a musical theatre course) which she assumes - as do I - is to weed out the unfit, unhealthy, and disabled.

If you know me you can already see why I loved this show so much. I spent the entire night nodding over the stupid things people say, the appalling discrimination in the theatre industry, and empathising with the restrictions, limitations, and fatigue engendered in trying to live in an able-normative world. In fact, just the other day someone suggested I try Tai Chi! The title of this show comes from a fantastic blog called Have You Tried Yoga? or 'Shit Neuro-typicals Say'. Check it out. You will laugh, groan, and cry - often all in the same breath.

Through all of this we have Astifo playing the loving and dedicated partner. It is heart warming to see the support and inclusion, but as the show goes on, the differences start to become more evident. Probably the most illustrative and heartbreaking and revealing moment is when they both do yoga. Astifo is...well...beyond fit and flexible. His jumping into the plank during a series of Ashtangi sequences and balancing on his hands alone were in stark contrast to Edmond's herculean efforts to even go from standing to lying on the mat by herself.

Astifo brings the high energy and comedy to the show, playing the clown as the disco king and impersonating a Jamie Oliver style TV chef. It is all a lot of fun until his intriguing avocado mash has a straw added and becomes Edmond's meal.

I know Have You Tried Yoga? is still in development but it is better and much more important than many fully produced shows I have experienced. Don't get me wrong. This is not all doom and gloom. In fact the purpose of Have You Tried Yoga? is to normalise disability and help the able-normative understand why sometimes the things they say, do or ask for just aren't possible and shouldn't be taken personally. Everything is just harder (and more fatiguing) if you are ability challenged in whatever form it may take.

Yes there is still some work to do. Overall the show comes across like a greatest hits collection of disabilities and needs some clarity between the through story and the vox pops. Having said that, it is strong and funny with genuine pathos and it is full of genuine and truthful insights and nuance. Have You Tried Yoga? is a masterpiece in the making.

4 Stars

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